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A Bookworm's corner

Completed Netflix? Spring-cleaned the house? Lockdown is the perfect opportunity to re-Kindle a love of reading and discover some new books to pass the time.

With the constant influx of new information about COVID and seemingly endless updates it can be difficult to switch off, but getting stuck into a good book is a great way to unwind. I’ve sometimes found it difficult to find time to read, and as the pile of books beside by bed was starting to resemble a nightstand I decided that COVID was a great excuse to put my phone on silent, cancel the quizzes on Zoom and start reading.

Here is a list of a few this trainee has enjoyed.

This Thing of Darkness – Harry S. Thompson

Two hundred years ago a ship sailed from our local Woolwich dockyard captained by Robert Fitzroy, a pioneering naval officer and his crew, including the newly graduated Charles Darwin. Tasked with surveying the uncharted territory of the tip of Patagonia, this book gives a vivid look into the adventures had by the crew exploring and the amazing discoveries they found along the way.

The book draws from the ship’s log and personal diaries to give a description of daily life on the Beagle and the arguments and discussions had between Darwin and Fitzroy, whose ideas around religion and science were fiercely opposed. Fundamentally, this is a book about an epic sea-faring adventure and the deep friendship between the two men. It also includes plenty of good stories and anecdotes about Darwin, including his first look at the Galapagos, where he encountered his famous finches and enjoyed eating the local giant tortoises (some of the characters’ actions don’t quite meet modern day standards of animal conservation).

It’s a weighty 640 page book, so not a quick read, but would suit anyone who is after a bit of adventure or brushing up on their natural history.

(Can also double as a handy doorstop after finishing).


Are You Experienced? William Sutcliffe

This is a funny, tongue-in-cheek story about a student who reluctantly ends up travelling (on holiday) on a journey of self-discovery (getting food poisoning and running out of money) in India. Easy to read in one sitting, this book will make you laugh and is pretty much the antithesis to “The Beach” in terms of novels about travelling. If you’ve ever stayed in a hostel, you will recognise most of the characters in this book.


On Brazzaville Beach – William Boyd

A chimpanzee research centre in the Congolese jungle is the unlikely setting for William Boyd’s thrilling novel. His brilliantly written female protagonist, Hope Clearwater, narrates her experiences in Africa and in parallel, the personal circumstances that led her there. Things quickly unravel in the jungle and as tensions rise with the research team and the primates themselves, Hope finds herself on a gripping journey which quickly turns to disaster. The book has an interesting mix of adventure/travel, science and dodgy research practices but is at its heart a tale of self-discovery.

A good page-turner, this book is hard to put down. Avoid if you have a phobia of chimpanzees (they don’t come off well).


Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

A classic wartime novel set on the sleepy Greek island of Cephalonia, this follows the Italian Captain Corelli (and his mandolin) during the Axis occupation of Greece during WW II. Corelli is billeted to the home of the town physician, Dr Iannis, and quickly falls in love with the doctor’s daughter and right-hand woman, Pellagia. Dr Iannis is devoted to his daughter, and although both are initially resistant to the invading Italian in their home, they are won over by Corelli’s charm, wit and musical talents, and Corelli soon finds himself at home on Cephalonia. Their relationship is complicated by war, the German invasion, local politics and Pellagia’s troublesome ex-fiancé.

The entire book is punctuated by descriptions of the conflict in Greece and the sometimes violent occupation through the experiences of islanders and invaders alike. Despite this, the descriptions of life on the island made sure I was left with a feeling of wanting to move to the Mediterranean, live by the sea, and eat calamari.

This is a beautiful book, which was adapted into a disappointing film with Nicholas Cage doing an extremely dodgy Italian accent.

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